University of the Philippines Los Baños

(Webmaster's Note: The article was originally published online in Rappler.com on October 3, 2013 and republished in the UPLB Horizon Special Issue)

Mt Makiling, a key biodiversity hotspot and popular hiking destination, was named the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park on Thursday, October 3.

In a ceremony held at the Mt Makiling Botanical Gardens in Los Baños, Laguna, officials from the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity presented the certification of declaration to the park managers and officials of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), under whose jurisdiction the mountain falls. Also there to receive the certification were mayors of cities covered by the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve and officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In a message to the congregation, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje said the distinction brings “little, but pleasant surprise,” because though Mt. Makiling has been recognized as a national park and center for biodiversity, the park has had to put up with heavy human traffic and use.

At its foot lies the sprawling UPLB campus whose students use the mountain as an outdoor laboratory for forestry. A National Arts Center, several international organizations, residential areas, and other facilities are found within the park.

“The wonder is that, for all its wear and tear, the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve continues to thrive as a habitat for biodiversity, well enough to qualify as an ASEAN Heritage Park,” said Paje.

Significance of title

Mt Makiling is the 5th ASEAN Heritage Park in the Philippines. The others are Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Mts. IglitBaco National Park, and Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park. It is the first in Luzon and the first to be managed by the academic sector. But what does the title mean and what are its implications?

In approving the nomination, the ASEAN Environment Ministers noted that the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve is a popular destination for both scientists and tourists because of its prominence as an outdoor laboratory for forestry, its majestic summits (it has three), and boiling mud and hot springs. It is also recognized for its high conservation importance being one of the Philippines’ 18 centers of plant diversity and 32 key ecotourism sites.

DENR-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau chief Theresa Mundita Lim said that while the title does not come with a grant or cash prize, it’s a great boon to the park. “It’s branding. We can use it to leverage more support from the national and international community. There has to be more awareness raising in terms of services Makiling is providing to the private sector,” she said.

The title also sounds the call for stakeholders to be even better stewards of the park. “This puts a greater responsibility on our shoulders,” said Bruno Ramos, mayor of Bay, a municipality in Laguna.

Mt Makiling will now also benefit from being a part of the ASEAN Heritage Park Programme, which facilitates knowledge-sharing on the best park management practices across the network of ASEAN Heritage Parks found all over the 10 ASEAN member states – Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar (Pia Ranada, Rappler posted October 3, 2013).